In this debut crime novel, a man tries to care for his dying wife while rescuing a woman from the Venetian mob.
An unnamed American and his terminally ill wife, Cheryl, have moved to Venice in order to await her end surrounded by the world’s most gorgeous city—though the extent to which her cancer has emptied their savings has forced them into a rather drab apartment building. The situation is taking its toll on the tale’s brooding narrator, a former Marine, who is stretched to the limit emotionally and is dreading what his life will be like after his wife is gone. The one bright spot is their neighbor Sophie, a tall, beautiful, mysterious woman whom Cheryl befriends, though it isn’t long before the veteran discovers the woman’s secret. “She’s bad news, mate,” he hears from a friend, an Australian bartender. “Belongs to Old Don Verdicchio,” a local Mafia boss involved in “whatever bad stuff makes the man money.” The ex-Marine, who has his own experience working with organized criminals, takes it upon himself to save Sophie from her situation. With Cheryl’s approval, the couple move Sophie into their own apartment in order to hide her from the reach of Don Verdicchio. As the don retaliates, the veteran realizes he may not be able to save both Cheryl and Sophie, but this fact may be something his wife has realized all along. McLean, in shaping his narrator’s prose, deftly summons all the noirish pathos of the classic detective genre: “For a second that stretched into eternity an internal voice tried to speak to me in a different language. One of logic....So I crushed it into a ball so small that I could barely hear it anymore and went downstairs.” The premise is inherently compelling, but the protagonist’s blunt, alcoholic chivalry isn’t completely convincing, nor is Cheryl’s saintly selflessness. Sophie, who rarely speaks, feels more like a pet than a fully developed person. Even so, fans of the genre will likely enjoy this mood piece, which delivers the requisite violence and tragedy in a picturesque Venetian setting.
A bleak, familiar tale of love and desperation.